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Methylmercury in Freshwater Fish Linked to Atmospheric Mercury Deposition

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journal contribution
posted on 15.12.2006, 00:00 by Chad R. Hammerschmidt, William F. Fitzgerald
A connection between accumulation of methylmercury (MeHg) in wild fish populations and atmospheric mercury deposition has not been made. Large databases for both MeHg in fish and atmospheric mercury deposition have been assimilated from monitoring efforts spanning the contiguous United States. Here, we compare results of these data sets and show that state-wide average concentrations of MeHg in a cosmopolitan freshwater fish, the largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides, are related positively to wet atmospheric Hg fluxes among most of the 25 states that are analyzed, which span a 5-fold range in Hg deposition. Differences in largemouth bass MeHg concentrations among states are unrelated to average precipitation depth, wet atmospheric acid deposition, or interstate variations in the type of water body (river, lake, reservoir) from which the fish were sampled. There are modest correlations between MeHg in bass and surface water pH, temperature, and wet atmospheric deposition of sulfate. However, when fish and atmospheric mercury results are combined at the state level, wet atmospheric Hg deposition accounts for about two-thirds of the variation in bass MeHg among most states, and stepwise multiple regression analysis reveals that these variables do not improve the linear model significantly. This suggests the accumulation of MeHg in wild fish populations is linked to atmospheric Hg loadings, two-thirds of which are estimated to be from anthropogenic sources.